Published On: Thu, Jul 11th, 2019

Climbers Flock to Uluru Before a Ban, Straining a Sacred Site

SYDNEY, Australia — It is an unusual sight for the famous but remote sandstone monolith known as Uluru: dense lines of eager climbers snaking up its reddish-brown surface, headed toward the peak of a rock sacred to the Indigenous Australians who live nearby.

Tourists are flocking to Uluru because, as of Oct. 26, they will be prohibited from scaling the 1,141-foot-tall rock, whose auburn ridges rise incongruously from the flat central Australia scrubland that surrounds them.

The ban is intended, in part, to prevent environmental damage to the monolith, which sits inside a national park that is a Unesco World Heritage site. But the rush of visitors in the time remaining is putting new strain on the park: Many hotels and campgrounds are sold out, leading to reports of increases in illegal camping, trespassing and trash dumping.

“It is very busy at the moment, and that is largely to do with the closure of the climb,” said Stephen Schwer, the chief executive of Tourism Central Australia. “Popularity has put stress on the existing infrastructure.”

While most travelers are respectful, he said, he called the rise in destructive behavior such as lighting fires and littering “disappointing.” He urged people to plan and book ahead, as the increase in unregulated camping threatens the delicate desert ecosystem.